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Scrap metal has been in the news a lot lately, both because of the rise in thefts and the proposed legislation to deter said thefts. Resource thought it time to find out exactly what this all means for our industry; Will Simpson reports
It’s the oldest part of the UK’s recycling sector: long before kerbside collections, steel and aluminium were being reused as scrap. It’s also one of the largest: the metal industry is worth over £5.6 billion to the British economy each year, with 5.5 million tonnes of iron and stainless steel scrap being supplied to domestic steelworks and foundries and more than 7.4 million tonnes exported. For nonferrous material (aluminium, copper, brass, etc) that export figure is over 1.5 million tonnes.
The key figure in this international supply chain is the metal recycler, of which there are over 3,500 registered with the Environment Agency alone. Yet the humble scrap dealer has long had to battle against a poor public image. Old clichés of dodgy geezers with scary guard dogs die hard, and these spectres haven’t exactly been banished by many dealers’ alleged complicity in the recent rise in metal thefts. We’ve all seen the headlines of churches, railways and even cemeteries being robbed, and whilst it’s easy to roll an eye at the sensationalised reporting, there’s no doubt that it has had a devastating effect on some communities and people’s lives. British Transport Police (BTP) reported a 70 per cent rise in railway cable theft in the year to March 2011, causing the cancellation or delay of some 35,000 national rail services. And, BT claims it will spend over 90,400 hours dealing with the impact of metal thefts in this year alone. The reasons behind these alarming crime stats aren’t hard to locate. Metal prices have risen over a long period, hitting a peak at the end of the long boom in 2007-08 and fluctuating wildly since. In the 10 years to 2011, copper’s price increased by 527 per cent, lead’s by 447 per cent and tin’s by 524 per cent. Much of this has been due to the large demand from China, India and other developing economies for raw materials. Compared to the risky business of burgling a domestic property, stealing metal and converting it into cash has become too easy an option for criminals. Many doubtless see it as a ‘victimless’ crime.
As is so often the case, a wave of headlines has elicited an official response. In January, a Private Member’s Bill to ban scrap yards from making cash payments was rejected by Parliament. But Home Secretary Teresa May wasted little time in announcing that the government would be introducing a similar ban under amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill currently going through Parliament.
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